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Millions of soccer fans across the country tuned in as Jordan Morris dramatically scored the tournament-winning goal of the Gold Cup last month. And doubtless, USMNT fans will turn their attention back to him when the US host Costa Rica in tomorrow’s World Cup qualifier at Red Bull Arena (6:30 pm, ESPN, Univision, UDN).
But none of them were watching just nine days before that Gold Cup win when Morris, unassumingly and without fanfare, did another cool thing while wearing a US shirt.
Following the end of a USMNT practice at the University of Pennsylvania’s Rhodes Field, Morris met Liam Fuller, the teenage son of Penn’s soccer coach, Rudy Fuller. Like Morris, Liam is a Type 1 diabetic, and reached out to Morris for guidance and advice as to how to play soccer while managing the disease.
Morris met young Liam Fuller this summer at USMNT training.
As he has done with other kids, the 22-year-old Seattle Sounders and US national team star struck up a relationship with Liam via email before they met in person for the first time, drawing huge smiles from an awe-inspired 14-year-old.
"I want to give back,” Morris told MLSsoccer.com by phone shortly before rejoining the US national team ahead of Friday’s World Cup qualifier. “I’ve been very blessed with being able to play.
“For me, when I was growing up, I looked at guys who had diabetes that were playing professional sports, like Jay Cutler and Adam Morrison, and I know I would have loved to have been able to speak with them. But I definitely looked at them as an inspiration. so whenever someone reaches out to me I try to get back to them and I hopefully can be that inspiration to them with whatever their dream is — whether it’s playing professional sports or anything else.”
Morris has made it a point to mentor as many diabetic kids as he can, meeting a new one on the field after every Seattle Sounders home game. He’s been to hospitals to host talks on diabetes, and is in the process of starting his own foundation. Meanwhile, he’s expanded his reach beyond Seattle by meeting kids at USMNT camps, too.
Earlier in July, he met a nine-year-old “diabuddy” named Aiden, giving him gifts, introducing him to Landon Donovan and Stuart Holden, and bonding over the kind of fruit snacks they need to eat before games in a video released by US Soccer. Not long after, when the cameras weren’t rolling, he had a similar conversation with Liam Fuller as his father proudly looked on.
“Jordan’s been instrumental in helping my son along, so it was really nice to connect those two,” said Rudy Fuller, the longtime Penn head coach and fixture in the Philadelphia soccer community. “It was the first time they met in person, and Jordan was phenomenal. He’s an unbelievable guy, really generous with his time. My son walked away on cloud nine.”
While the best part for Morris is seeing the kids’ faces light up, he also notices how much relief his talks give to parents like Rudy Fuller, who are naturally worried about how the disease may affect their son.
Morris does his best to ease those concerns, pointing to what he’s been able to accomplish as proof that diabetes hasn’t held him back. But he does it an honest way, opening up about some of his own struggles, listening candidly to those facing younger kids, and offering encouraging tips about utilizing some of the new technologies that have been developed. (He wears a glucose monitor on his hip that sends a blood-sugar update to his phone every few minutes).
“Especially when you’re younger — for me too — it’s hard to deal with because people really think it’s going to get in the way,” said Morris, who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of nine. “But I just try to get that out of their heads. I’ve gotten some responses from parents that have been very thankful.”
“I can’t say enough about Jordan and his generosity and the type of person he is,” said the elder Fuller. “He’s obviously got a really bright future. To do what he’s done on the field and to have the future he has and to still be as grounded as he is, it’s very impressive.”
It certainly seems quite clear that Morris has a bright future ahead of him on the soccer field, where in the last two years alone he’s won an NCAA title, an MLS Cup and the Gold Cup.
And now, as he sets his sights on even bigger things like getting to a World Cup, he’s ready to step up his off-the-field mission too.
“I’ve been given this platform of being able to play soccer and I want to use it to do some good,” Morris said. “So trying to reach as many younger diabetics as I can is important to me.
“Hopefully there’s a cure for diabetes at some point. Until then, I definitely want to keep speaking out and trying to be an inspiration to as many as possible."